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Hawthorne C. Gray
Gray (center) prior to his final altitude record attempt.
Born (1889-02-16)February 16, 1889
Died November 4, 1927(1927-11-04) (aged 38)
Place of birth Pasco, Washington
Place of death Near Sparta, Tennessee
Buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1915-1927
Rank Captain
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross

Hawthorne Charles Gray (February 16, 1889 - November 4, 1927) was a captain in the United States Army Air Corps.[1][2][3] On November 4, 1927, he succeeded in setting a new altitude record in a silk, rubberized, and aluminum-coated balloon launched from Scott Field near Belleville, Illinois, reaching 42,470 ft (12.94 km), but died during his descent after his oxygen supply became depleted.[1][4][5] The record was recognized by the National Aeronautical Association, but not by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale because the dead aeronaut "was not in personal possession of his instruments."[4] Gray was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his three ascents on March 9, May 4 and November 4.[1][4][6]

Early life and career[]

Gray (right) prior to his March 1927 world record attempt.

Gray was born on February 16, 1889 in Pasco, Washington.[7] He was the son of William Polk Gray (1845-1929), a prominent steamboat captain in the Northwestern United States, and Oceana Falkland Bush.[8][9] Hawthorne Gray was a graduate of the University of Idaho.[7]

Gray served as an officer in the Idaho National Guard and enlisted in the United States Army in 1915, serving as an infantry private in the Pancho Villa Expedition of 1916.[2][7][10] Gray was commissioned a second lieutenant on June 2, 1917, and transferred with the rank of captain to what was then the United States Army Air Service in 1920.[7] He began piloting balloons in 1921.[2][10] He placed third in the 1926 National Balloon Race and second in the 1926 Gordon Bennett balloon race.[11]

Record-setting balloon flights[]

On March 9, 1927, Gray set an unofficial altitude record of 28,510 ft (8.69 km) in a balloon launched from Scott Field, but passed out from hypoxia in the thin air, regaining consciousness only just in time to drop ballast and slow his fall after the balloon descended on its own.[1][4][12] On May 4, Gray set an unofficial record for highest altitude reached by a human being, as he attained 42,470 ft (12.94 km) in a balloon over Belleville. Because of the rapid descent of the balloon, Gray parachuted out at 8,000 feet, disqualifying him from recognition by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), which required that the balloonist land with his craft.[1][4][12]

On November 4, Gray attempted to set an official record. After reaching an altitude of 40,000 feet, he lost consciousness and died. His body was found in the balloon basket in a tree near Sparta, Tennessee, the next day.[4][10][12] The balloon's barographs showed that Gray had reached a height between 43,000 and 44,000 feet.[1] There were various theories about the cause of Gray's death. He may have severed his oxygen hose accidentally while cutting open bags of sand ballast.[2][13] It is also possible that Gray became too cold and tired to open the valve on one of his oxygen tanks, or that an internal organ was ruptured by decreasing pressure. Aeronaut Albert Leo Stevens believed that Gray died during descent or on impact.[1] The Scott Field board of inquiry which investigated Gray's death concluded that he died because his clock stopped, causing him to lose track of his time on oxygen and exhaust his supply.[14]

Gray was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and buried in Arlington National Cemetery.[1][2][14]

Personal life[]

Gray was married to Miriam Lorette Maddux. They had a son, John Maddux Gray, who died when he was a year old.[3] Gray was survived by his widow and three other sons.[14]

References[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Ryan, Craig (2003). The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. pp. 5–8. ISBN 1-55750-732-5. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=1QS38bu9iTwC&pg=PA5. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 "Hawthorne C. Gray, Captain, United States Army". Michael Robert Patterson. August 31, 2007. http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/hcgray.htm. Retrieved November 4, 2012. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Schnuriger, Emory (October 18, 2012). "John Maddux Gray (1921 - 1922) - Find A Grave Memorial". Find A Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=99173163. Retrieved November 4, 2012. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Maurer, Maurer (1987). Aviation in the U.S. Army, 1919-1939. Washington, D.C.: United States Air Force Historical Research Center, Office of Air Force History. pp. 267–271. ISBN 0-912799-38-2. http://books.google.com/books?id=E1gGW_TqLawC&pg=PA267. 
  5. "U.S. Air Force Fact Sheet: Fatal Flight of Capt. Gray". National Museum of the United States Air Force. July 10, 2009. http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet.asp?id=732. Retrieved November 4, 2012. 
  6. Crouch, Tom D. (1983). The Eagle Aloft: Two Centuries of the Balloon in America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. pp. 595–603. ISBN 0-87474-346-X. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Crouch, p. 595.
  8. "Capt. William P. Gray". October 27, 1929. p. 18. Archived from the original on 2012-12-17. https://archive.is/qBxO. 
  9. Hall, Erin; McFarland, Colleen (February 2006). "Guide to the Morda C. Slauson Collection on William Polk Gray 1891-1968". Northwest Digital Archives. http://nwda.orbiscascade.org/ark:/80444/xv75598. Retrieved November 10, 2012. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Associated Press (November 6, 1927). "Mute Testimony of Sealed Apparatus May Set Height Record for Dead Balloonist". http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=BStPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=z00DAAAAIBAJ&pg=6238,374033&dq=hawthorne-gray&hl=en. 
  11. Crouch, pp. 572-574.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Davis, Jeffrey R.; Johnson, Robert; Stepanek, Jan; Fogarty, Jennifer A. (2008). Fundamentals of Aerospace Medicine. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-7817-7466-6. http://books.google.com/books?id=_6hymYAgC6MC&pg=PA6. 
  13. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Crouch, p. 603.

External links[]

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